I’m sure you’ve seen the dust-ups about breastfeeding in public recently. Bill Maher, Applebees, Facebook, even the YMCA have proven themselves unfriendly to nursing mothers just in the past couple of months.
I’m not going to add to the millions of pixels of righteous – and rightful – anger that have been dedicated to this argument already. Breastfeeding is a woman’s right, and a beautiful thing, and lunch for an innocent baby, and I find it inconceivable that there are calls for a woman to be “discreet” while nursing in a world that encourages boys to wear pants that sag low enough to show a plumber’s crack and thirteen year old girls to dress like hookers. I’ve seen some pretty disgusting feeding behaviour at the local fast food joint, and yet nobody’s putting a blanket over their heads as they cram sauce-dripping big macs into their pie-holes and chew with their mouths open. (Okay, maybe I had just a few pixels of vitriol to add to the debate.)
I had intended to post a picture of me nursing one of the boys today, to play along with the Great Virtual Breast Fest. I gave myself a week’s lead time, and left reminders for myself — but still forgot to dig out the old pictures. S’okay, though, because I like to think I’m pretty good at painting a picture with all these wordy-words of mine.
Breastfeeding did not come easily to me. It was, in a word, hell. From the first day of his life, nursing Tristan was a challenge. He was born at 9:00 in the morning after more than 27 hours of sleepless labour, and I remember being on the maternity ward with him when he was about six hours old, absolutely stupefied with exhaustion and terror, and the nurse coming in to ask me if I’d fed him. I blinked at her as the guilt swelled up for the first time in my parenting career – barely a quarter of a day into a lifetime – and told her I didn’t know how. She clucked her disapproval, shoved the baby onto my breast, and walked away.
That night, a kinder nurse used wet facecloths to torture poor, sleepy and not-quite-one-day-old Tristan into enough wakefulness to get him to latch on. We had to do this every three hours, all night long, and it took about 45 minutes to wake him up enough just to get him to latch every time. I was petrified to go home and leave behind the kindly nurse with the wet washcloth. I simply didn’t feel ready to handle it on my own.
The first two weeks of his life, we made every-second-day trips to the lactation clinic at the hospital to adjust the latch and have him weighed. I would cry with the pain every time he latched on, and he would spit up my blood after every feed. He came dangerously close to being labelled with the ominous “failure to thrive” as he continued to not gain weight. My poor husband and my visiting mother tried a few times to suggest that I capitulate and give him some formula, that I had tried my best, that he would still be fine raised on formula as millions of babies are.
And yet, I dug in my heels. When Tristan was five weeks old and had finally regained enough weight, the ped gave me permission to stop setting the alarm for myself so I could wake Tristan for a feed every third hour throughout the night. After endless tubes of lansinoh, the latch had gone from excruciating to sore, and I could handle that. And then we got thrush. That, too, passed.
When Tristan was four months old, just when nursing moved from torture to tolerable, the ped suggested we start supplementing with forumula because Tristan was having serious problems with reflux and not gaining enough weight. Oh the irony, that these large breasts of mine – a bane through my whole life from their first appearance in grade school – would betray me yet again by not producing enough milk to satisfy my son. For another five months, I gave him two bottles a day and nursed him the rest of the time. By the time he was eight months old, we were down to one ritual morning feed, more of a comfort nurse than a nutritional one, and had to spend the entire day on Christmas day at the ER when he had a wicked fever. We had nothing packed for him to eat, but somehow my beleaguered breasts stood up for the task and I managed to produce enough milk to satisfy him for the entire day.
He weaned himself around 10 months, and Simon was conceived six months later. I had hoped nursing would be easier the second time, but it wasn’t – at least, not to start. More blood, more cracked nipples, and this time a voracious 10 lbs baby who wanted to feed every two hours. No wet facecloths were ever required to entice Simon to a meal. I nursed him until he was 16 months old, a good four months after I had gone back to work after the end of my maternity leave.
Breastfeeding was never the zen, earth-mama, natural experience I had been told it would be. It was painful, physically and emotionally. It caused vicious late-night arguments between sleep-deprived and emotionally overwhelmed parents. It was bloody hard work for all of us.
And yet, it’s one of the things I most look forward to. I know the first little while will be painful, and scary. But when it settles into a routine, nursing a baby can be a wonderful thing. And I’ll nurse this baby anywhere I damn well please to do so. I’ve nursed the boys in the mall, at the park, at the community centre, in a truck stop, in a restaurant… all without the benefit of hiding under some sort of tent.
Check out the League of Maternal Justice today for some links to other moms (and dads) who are joining the Great Breast Fest today.
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